Episode 19 — “Inspirations”

This episode brings you a discussion of inspirations in many, many forms. Not even intentionally (except if you ask us we’ll totally say it was). Plus, what major system is missing from D&D 5e? All that in more await you inside.

Brian: https://twitter.com/Fiddleback
Scott: https://twitter.com/TheAngryGM

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Email: DigressionsandDragons@gmail.com

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The voice and producer of GM Word of the Week, he is also a Freelance Tabletop Game Editor and Writer as well as a long time podcaster. He has written and edited for Fantasy Flight Games' Star Wars RPGs, Modiphius Entertainment's Mutant Chronicles and Infinity RPGs and several others. He is currently working on his own Transit RPG.

16 thoughts on “Episode 19 — “Inspirations”

  1. It’s interesting you mentioned the destiny issue with the Genesys system; I think it’s a general problem with a lot of modern generic universal role-playing systems. I’m fairly fond of the Monte Cook Cypher System, except…outside of the two native settings, Numinara and The Strange, I don’t see a lot of call for the supposedly core mechanic of Cyphers.

    It’s almost like an rpg system should be written for a specific setting, and maybe trying to create something like a Grecian Heroes game powered by the Apocalypse is going to be kind of awkward.

  2. Inspiration: I actually like how Fate uses the Aspects as their way to do with sort of thing, with the Invokes or the GM Compels, though I’m not a huge fan of the meta currency aspect of it with the Fate Points. But as far as the bonuses being tied into the character/world, I think it works well. You don’t get to spend a Fate point for a bonus on anything, there’s a specific Aspect of your character (or the scene) that you’re invoking to gain that bonus. I can spend a Fate point to invoke “First Axe of the Invar” to gain a bonus on a combat roll, but not to gain a bonus on picking a lock (unless for some story reason the First Axe of the Invar implies proficiency with lockpicking)

    As far as the Destiny point stuff as an excuse for the GM to add stuff to the scene, I agree that it does seem weird to me since that’s just what the GM is supposed to do anyways.

    I do like how the game “Dusk City Outlaws” uses a similar system though with their “Heat”. Since the game is about planning, setting up for, and pulling off heists, Heat works as a mechanic for the GM to spend to add complications/difficulty because it is directly responsive to the characters’ actions. Busting a door or leaving evidence or harming someone or using firearms during your setup for the heist adds Heat, and it makes total sense that the Heat then translates to more guards or increased security measures or a district-wide curfew or the investigator on your tail closing in during your heist. There’s an extra level of separation and abstraction with the Destiny points stuff that rubs me the wrong way, though as you say the Force does sort of make it work. It’s hard to see how to make that direct connection without it.

  3. “One of the gods got drunk” sounds like an amazing plot

    Cleric walks into a bar “So kinda went on a bender and cracked the eternal prison of so now there’s shadow demons leaking out of Mt Guffin”, all the bar patrons groan and slowly collect their things to go fight a mountain of deadly shadows. As they file out of the pub the cleric hands each of them a small scroll designating their part of the mountain to undemon and a marble representing one favor from insertgod as apology. Lightning crackles ridiculously around a dark mountain seen in the background through the anachronistic saloon doors. A rogue in the background proclaims “Sweet, I got the extremely pregnable fortress of hidey holes and corpse sized cabinets!”, another rogue stabs them and absconds with the scroll and the marble.

    1. turns out if you use angle brackets in here it just poofs your words

      “so insertgodhere kinda went on a bender and cracked the eternal prison of othergodhere so now there’s shadow demons leaking out of Mt Guffin”

  4. A set of tokens that you can flip back and forth representing the favor or anger of a pantheon and tailoring the favor or interference to the specific diety sounds like an awesome idea for a mythic D&D campaign. Thank you very much for that inspiration.

    On the other hand, fighting a dragon from an airship sounds like an excellent way to recreate the Hindenburg disaster. As DM, you’re obviously free to handwave things and say “Oh, it uses Helium/Hot Air/Magic to stay aloft, not Hydrogen” but what’s the fun in that?

  5. About mass com at rules – what if you treated your armies (well, at least the separate formations making up your armies) like individual PCs? Each formation is homogenous, and closely matches any PC placed in it. Yes, make the formations match PC types so the players can participate and feel like they are contributing. Run it like regular combat – each formation has an initiative, an AC, attack bonus, number of attacks and damage roll (based on number of whatever in that formation), hit points (again, based on number… and if you get fancy and put out all the models for everything, simply remove so many models per so much damage sustained, great visual tracking system), movement speed… I’m sure I’ve missed something in there. You would need to come up with a roster of mass combat spells and heals, because no one is going to believe that your PCs found 10 fifth level wizard mercenaries who all happened to memorize “fireball” today, much more palatable to state the PC wiz is directing the efforts of some talented beginners to cast these other spells.

    Just some minor “throwing stuff against the wall to see what sticks” before going to bed. Thanks again, guys, loved the discussion.

    1. I wouldn’t handle HP as people lost and abstract it into “morale”. If morale reaches 0 the formation routs. Healing spell equals godly inspiration, restoring morale, fireballs are reducing numbers and by that inflicting morale damage.
      If you reduce the number of people, players want penalties for ¼, ½ etc.

      I would think mages don’t need so much alteration but you could say Cleric spells (healing, buff) are more powerful (extending to the whole unit) because a battle is a collection of many worshippers and important for the God.

      1. Regarding morale instead of HP, as I believe Scott would say, that’s nice but you’re wrong. Using “morale” instead of HP just pulls any impact, any actual feeling of danger from the combat. Remember we’re trying to keep mass combat as close to regular D&D combat as possible, so yes, HP over morale. Would I also decrement the unit’s capability as they lose “hit points”? Yes, yes I would, but then again I think we should do that in regular D&D combat: -1 to all checks at 3/4 HP, -2 to all checks at 1/2, and -4 at 1/4. Applicable, of course, to both sides of the combat, PC and monster/villain/NPC alike. The 4th edition “bloodied” rule wasn’t all that onerous and actually made sense.

        Could you track morale separately to see when units crack and run for the hills? Yes, but it would be a waste – the GM decides when the monsters break since they are running that side of the fight, and the GM also decides when the units around the PCs (both the ones they are in and the ones fighting on their side) break and run. Just like in regular D&D combat. If you want a full mass combat system, there are plenty out there to choose from, gotta keep this one as streamlined as possible.

        Yes, just like I think there needs to be mass combat wizard/sorcerer/warlock spells, there should be mass combat cleric/druid/paladin and ranger/bard/(I know I’m forgetting something else) spells, and fighter/barbarian special maneuvers. But only when those formations have a PC (or NPC/special monster) in them, makes the players feel special by making them a part of their side being more powerful, and also allows your monsters to keep their special abilities (that unit of goblin archers? just archers, but that group of goblin shamans? yep, mass combat spells).

        1. Well, I would reply that I run my game any wrong way I like to. HP in D&D never made sense to me, except treating it as some vague mixture of wounds, morale and exhaustion. Otherwise the “I can be hit by 20 swords now, because I’m more experienced” doesn’t make sense to me.

          So for me it is not an abstraction from my regular game to treat HP as morale. That’s just my suspension of disbelief though.

          1. =) Good! Don’t let me ruin a game I’m not involved in.

            And damn has WotC and everyone else tried to write mass combat rules for D&D! Just for 5e, WotC released two Unearthed Arcana articles (Mass Combat and When Armies Clash), and earlier rereleased the Chainmail rules for 3rd edition (meant to be its own product, but it was under the d20 brand, so they really wanted it to be core to D&D at the time). And elsewhere, Paizo included mass combat rules in their Ultimate Campaign book, Eden Studios released Fields of Blood: The Book of War under the d20 OGL… the list goes on. I’ve run into about 3 other homebrewed rulesets on the ‘net just searching for “D&D mass combat”, pick what suits your game and go for it.

            HP in D&D works about as well as anything else and as an abstraction of more experienced fighters both absorbing more damage and dealing out more damage, it’s not bad. Search YouTube for “sca combat” and watch especially how the folks wearing white belts (knights) or white sashes (masters of arms) fare against those not wearing white belts/sashes. Yes, SCA combat is more sport than realism, but the best you can get without seriously harming your opponent. A knight/master of arms blocks, dodges or slips out of more blows thrown at them, and lands more blows per blows thrown than their opponent. Just because either side of a combat in D&D scored “HP damage” doesn’t mean blood flowed – it represents a loss of morale… and stamina… and life… all of it counts in a fight.

            Bud, don’t try to make logical, real world sense of D&D combat. Real combat from the medieval period was nasty, ugly, not terribly photogenic, and didn’t involve a lot of swords, especially if any large amount of armor was involved on either combatant. Spears were far more prevalent, and if they were wearing any armor, polearms with lots of hooks and spikes, or great big hammers and maces, were the weapons of choice. And when swords were used, they were mostly used as thrusting weapons, not as hacking weapons, because jamming a chunk of steel through someone’s breathing bits or blood pumping bits is a lot more effective than hacking chunks out of them and waiting for them to exsanguinate.

  6. I started nodding when your discussion of mini-games shifted to wondering if they aren’t really subsystems. Traditional RPGs tend to have quite a few of these. Hexcrawl mechanics can be one, also the “skill challenge” system was I think intended to be a generic way to model lots of these kinds of situations (I didn’t really like the execution, though).

    Re: mass combat, Monte Cook’s Malhavoc Press published “Cry Havoc” by Skip Williams, which covered war and mass/unit combat for 3E. I liked the general idea, but didn’t like some of the specifics — essentially, it ended up like standard 3E battlemat combat, but everything was scaled up so a figure represented 10 creatures, a round was 1 minute, and so on. I ended up borrowing a few of his ideas for my own custom unit combat system, which still played at 10 rounds to the minute scale and could mix with individual figures — the general idea was that you could aggregate groups of 5-10 figures into masses which would move and attack like a single figure in the standard D&D action economy, and still expect more or less reasonable results. (For the math-inclined, I used the binomial distribution to produce a couple of resolution tables – when a group unit attacked, you’d roll a single d20 and compare to the target number needed to hit, and that would tell you how many hits were scored and even how many criticals.) I needed this because my fairly high-level party was leading a group of quite a number of low-level soldiers, and were sometimes fighting other groups of low-level figures, and this was a convenient way to keep things moving along.

    Dan Collins (“Delta”) of Delta’s D&D Hotspot (http://deltasdnd.blogspot.com/) has put out his own “Book of War” mini/mass combat rules. He’s developed them to be consistent with and to give results similar to OD&D. On his page he has discussions of the mathematical analysis and software simulations he ran to tweak his numbers.

  7. I think the reason why Huttball translated well to tabletop RPG is twofold, both of which boil down to its origin as a PvP battleground in an MMORPG.

    First, they had to work within the mechanics of the main game and its PvP system. They couldn’t add a new mechanic for throwing the ball, so passing the ball is just an AoE spell you get when you have the ball. They can’t add a fancy tackling mechanic, so you deal with enemy players by using regular combat with guns and lightsabers. The players already know these mechanics because they already use them in regular adventures, so you don’t get players disinterested in Huttball because they need to learn a new system just to tackle someone who’s trying to catch a pass.

    Secondly, because it was just a PvP battleground and not a fully-fledged sport, they had to keep the rules simple: It’s just a sports-themed Capture the Flag setup with power ups and a need to keep the action rolling, lest a bored Hutt decide to blow up the ball for fun. No need to teach the player about fouls or offside rules, because these would be no more fun in an MMO’s PvP than in the tabletop version.

    I have no doubt that if Huttball had been its own fully-fledged game à la Madden or NHL with rules and mechanics designed for a sports game rather than an MMORPG, it would have made for a terrible tabletop experience

  8. There was the time when a couple of players couldn’t make it to a session, so our DM just had us play an entire game of Settlers of Catan in character in the party’s favorite tavern.

    OTOH, there was the time when my Rogue participated in a knife throwing game that worked like darts but I came up with a d20 dexterity based mechanic to resolve each throw. He won some gold that day!
    Or the time when the party decided to bet on the Chariot races, but the Bard decided to fix the race by blinding one of the drivers, so the officials cancelled the rest of the races and the players lost all their money when the bookies wouldn’t pay out. I had a great d20 mechanic for that one too, wasted because the Bard wasn’t happy just watching a sporting event.

    Also, the AD&D DMs Guide has a page with rules for various gambling games (mostly dice games, duh).

    So, situational, and ok if it doesn’t pull the players too far out of character, I guess.

  9. Our “the dark eye” group has a “pre-game” every session. So we avoid the poker in game by putting it up front and combining it with chitchat to streamline the following rpg only.

    The only other mini game I use would be riddles.

  10. I want your trove of accounting jokes! I’ll trade, short then long:

    Where do homeless accountants live?
    In a tax shelter.
    An accountant and a lawyer are sharing a beach in the Carribean. The accountant asks the lawyer how he ended up here. “My apartment caught fire and I’m here on the insurance proceeds. You?”

    “Ah, I also had an apartment downtown, it flooded, and I’m here on the insurance proceeds as well.”

    The lawyer ponders on this, looks back over and asks, “How exactly do you start a flood?”

    1. FFIX…you are the second person I’ve ever encountered who shares my opinion that it’s the best in the series. It’s not quite the 4e of Final Fantasy, but definitely underrated.

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